BOSTON and THE WOODLANDS, Texas—From the demand for outdoor meeting spaces to less prescriptive social gatherings, Benchmark Resorts & Hotels, the independent division of Pyramid Global Hospitality, has tapped over 60 of its properties to gauge their outlooks for meetings in 2023 and find the trends driving group travel.
Per Eric Gavin, chief commercial officer of the luxury & lifestyle division of Pyramid Global Hospitality, “There has been a huge surge in group demand for short-term, last-minute bookings this year. Pace for 2023 is equally strong and ahead of any of our historical records.”
Addressing hybrid and remote workforces, he added, “Evolved work patterns are creating more necessity for regional gatherings, which is also driving the short-term nature of bookings, and this is a trend we anticipate is here to stay. We’re leveraging local relationships to show planners the special experiences in their own backyard.”
Gavin noted, “The two-year gap in traditional meetings has also led to a rush to make up for lost time, and we expect it will take through 2023 to get back to normal meeting cycles.”
As hoteliers and planners look ahead, here are five top meeting trends driving group experiences, per Benchmark Resorts & Hotels:
1The four walls are dead
Group event sizes have condensed a bit, according to Gavin, and, “Smaller events have opened up creativity for alternative meeting set-ups tailored to more intimate experiences, whether that’s creating a living room design in a traditional meeting space or moving the group thinktank to an outdoor pavilion.”
Many of Benchmark’s onsite specialists, including from places like Turtle Bay Resort (Oahu, Hawaii) and Chaminade Resort & Spa (Santa Cruz, California), noted the increased demand for outside meeting spaces, where important conversations and “out of the box” ideas can be inspired by an unexpected natural setting.
2Healthy heads alfresco, and food should be an experience
Vegetarian and vegan cuisine needs are on the rise, according to most portfolio properties polled by Benchmark Resorts & Hotels, with “healthy” a noted request from planners. How healthy is defined appears fluid, ranging from preferences like raw and dairy-free to fresh and locally sourced, according to Snow King Resort (Jackson Hole, Wyoming). Per the team at La Cantera Resort & Spa (San Antonio, Texas), it’s not just about the food, but the total dining experience. Meeting groups are drawn to something outside and memorable, like a visit from a Texas Longhorn during the dinner hour, or a tequila tasting that elevates the overall drink experience.
3Team bonding is a mix of approachable and adventurous, and often philanthropic
After so much time apart, and now the urgency to be together, clients are building out programs for next year with more social time together, according to The Abbey Resort (Lake Geneva, Wisconsin) and Chaminade Resort & Spa. Overscheduling is out, with more free time for attendees and a pull-back to half-day team-building activities, per La Cantera Resort & Spa. Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe (Houston, Texas) and Chaminade Resort & Spa noted that outdoor experiences are a must, and approachability is key so that the activity appeals to the entire group.
Getting active with experiences like ziplining, whitewater rafting, waterfall tours, and tomahawk throwing is big per Garden of the Gods Resort (Colorado Springs, Colorado), Willows Lodge (Woodinville, Washington), and Skamania Lodge. In greater Scottdale, Arizona, Hotel Valley Ho and Mountain Shadows Resort noted a strong focus on charitable impact events, a trend also playing out at properties like Texas A&M Hotel & Conference Center, where attendees can work together on a community service project like building a playground or repairing community facilities through the local chapter of Rebuilding Together.
4No forced connections: Social activations are less prescriptive
Groups are looking for more casual, mobile events where connections can happen organically and moving away from formal awards dinners and the like according to La Cantera Resort and The Abbey Resort. Karaoke is a surprise hit and a growing request, per Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe, emphasizing together time that is focused on one another rather than a third-party entertainer, like a live band. At Hawk Cay Resort, campfire gatherings are proving an organic way to get meeting attendees together, with related programming like cordials, s’mores, and storytelling attracting a strong post-meeting crowd.
5Hybrid meetings have waned, but onsite tech is still key
While the hybrid work trend continues, Benchmark Resorts & Hotels has noted a clear drop in demand for integrating remote employees into onsite meeting, with an exception for companies with an international base. That said, investment in WiFi bandwidth, audio visual equipment, and guest messaging platforms, as well as onsite personnel, continues to grow to meet group demands, per Hawks Cay Resort (Duck Key, Florida), Forest Suites Resort at Heavenly Village (South Lake Tahoe, California), Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe, and Willows Lodge.